File Name Glob Patterns

File Name Glob Patterns

A glob pattern is a text expression that matches one or more file names using wildcards familiar to most users of a command line. For example, * is a glob that matches any name at all, and Readme.txt is a glob that matches exactly one file. For purposes of Fossil's globs, a complete path name is just a string, and the globs do not apply any special meaning to the directory part of the name. Thus, the glob * matches any name, including any directory prefix, and */* matches a name with one or more directory components.

A glob should not be confused with a regular expression (RE) even though they use some of the same special characters for similar purposes. They are not fully compatible pattern matching languages. Fossil uses globs when matching file names with the settings described in this document, not REs.

Fossil’s *-glob settings hold one or more patterns to cause Fossil to give matching named files special treatment. Glob patterns are also accepted in options to certain commands and as query parameters to certain Fossil UI web pages. For consistency, settings such as empty-dirs are parsed as a glob even though they aren’t then applied as a glob since it allows the same syntax rules to apply.

Where Fossil also accepts globs in commands, this handling may interact with your OS’s command shell or its C runtime system, because they may have their own glob pattern handling. We will detail such interactions below.


Where Fossil accepts glob patterns, it will usually accept a list of individual patterns separated from the others by whitespace or commas.

The parser allows whitespace and commas in a pattern by quoting the entire pattern with either single or double quotation marks. Internal quotation marks are treated literally. Moreover, a pattern that begins with a quote mark ends when the first instance of the same mark occurs, not at a whitespace or comma. Thus, this:

"foo bar"qux

…constitutes two patterns rather than one with an embedded space, in contravention of normal shell quoting rules.

A list matches a file when any pattern in that list matches.

A pattern must consume and match the entire file name to succeed. Partial matches are failed matches.

Most characters in a glob pattern consume a single character of the file name and must match it exactly. For instance, “a” in a glob simply matches the letter “a” in the file name unless it is inside a special character sequence.

Other characters have special meaning, and they may include otherwise normal characters to give them special meaning:

Pattern Effect
* Matches any sequence of zero or more characters
? Matches exactly one character
[...] Matches one character from the enclosed list of characters
[^...] Matches one character not in the enclosed list

Note that unlike POSIX globs, these special characters and sequences are allowed to match / directory separators as well as the initial . in the name of a hidden file or directory. This is because Fossil file names are stored as complete path names. The distinction between file name and directory name is “underneath” Fossil in this sense.

The bracket expressions above require some additional explanation:

Some examples of character lists:

Pattern Effect
[a-d] Matches any one of a, b, c, or d but not ä
[^a-d] Matches exactly one character other than a, b, c, or d
[0-9a-fA-F] Matches exactly one hexadecimal digit
[a-] Matches either a or -
[][] Matches either ] or [
[^]] Matches exactly one character other than ]
[]^] Matches either ] or ^
[^-] Matches exactly one character other than -

White space means the specific ASCII characters TAB, LF, VT, FF, CR, and SPACE. Note that this does not include any of the many additional spacing characters available in Unicode such as U+00A0, NO-BREAK SPACE.

Because both LF and CR are white space and leading and trailing spaces are stripped from each glob in a list, a list of globs may be broken into lines between globs when the list is stored in a file, as for a versioned setting.

Note that 'single quotes' and "double quotes" are the ASCII straight quote characters, not any of the other quotation marks provided in Unicode and specifically not the "curly" quotes preferred by typesetters and word processors.

File Names to Match

Before it is compared to a glob pattern, each file name is transformed to a canonical form:

(There are additional details we are ignoring here, but they cover rare edge cases and follow the principle of least surprise.)

The glob must match the entire canonical file name to be considered a match.

The goal is to have a name that is the simplest possible for each particular file, and that will be the same regardless of the platform you run Fossil on. This is important when you have a repository cloned from multiple platforms and have globs in versioned settings: you want those settings to be interpreted the same way everywhere.

Beware, however, that all glob matching in Fossil is case sensitive regardless of host platform and file system. This will not be a surprise on POSIX platforms where file names are usually treated case sensitively. However, most Windows file systems are case preserving but case insensitive. That is, on Windows, the names ReadMe and README are usually names of the same file. The same is true in other cases, such as by default on macOS file systems and in the file system drivers for Windows file systems running on non-Windows systems. (e.g. exfat on Linux.) Therefore, write your Fossil glob patterns to match the name of the file as checked into the repository.

Some example cases:

Pattern Effect
README Matches only a file named README in the root of the tree. It does not match a file named src/README because it does not include any characters that consume (and match) the src/ part.
*/README Matches src/README. Unlike Unix file globs, it also matches src/library/README. However it does not match the file README in the root of the tree.
*README Matches src/README as well as the file README in the root of the tree as well as foo/bar/README or any other file named README in the tree. However, it also matches A-DIFFERENT-README and src/DO-NOT-README, or any other file whose name ends with README.
src/README Matches src\README on Windows because all directory separators are rewritten as / in the canonical name before the glob is matched. This makes it much easier to write globs that work on both Unix and Windows.
*.[ch] Matches every C source or header file in the tree at the root or at any depth. Again, this is (deliberately) different from Unix file globs and Windows wild cards.

Where Globs are Used

Settings that are Globs

These settings are all lists of glob patterns:

Setting Description
binary-glob Files that should be treated as binary files for committing and merging purposes
clean-glob Files that the clean command will delete without prompting or allowing undo
crlf-glob Files in which it is okay to have CR, CR+LF or mixed line endings. Set to "*" to disable CR+LF checking
crnl-glob Alias for the crlf-glob setting
encoding-glob Files that the commit command will ignore when issuing warnings about text files that may use another encoding than ASCII or UTF-8. Set to "*" to disable encoding checking
ignore-glob Files that the add, addremove, clean, and extras commands will ignore
keep-glob Files that the clean command will keep

All may be versioned, local, or global. Use fossil settings to manage local and global settings, or a file in the repository's .fossil-settings/ folder at the root of the tree named for each for versioned setting.

Using versioned settings for these not only has the advantage that they are tracked in the repository just like the rest of your project, but you can more easily keep longer lists of more complicated glob patterns than would be practical in either local or global settings.

The ignore-glob is an example of one setting that frequently grows to be an elaborate list of files that should be ignored by most commands. This is especially true when one (or more) IDEs are used in a project because each IDE has its own ideas of how and where to cache information that speeds up its browsing and building tasks but which need not be preserved in your project's history.

Although the empty-dirs setting is not a list of glob patterns as such, it is parsed that way for consistency among the settings, allowing the list parsing rules above to apply.

Commands that Refer to Globs

Many of the commands that respect the settings containing globs have options to override some or all of the settings. These options are usually named to correspond to the setting they override, such as --ignore to override the ignore-glob setting. These commands are:

The commands tarball and zip produce compressed archives of a specific checkin. They may be further restricted by options that specify glob patterns that name files to include or exclude rather than archiving the entire checkin.

The commands http, cgi, server, and ui that implement or support with web servers provide a mechanism to name some files to serve with static content where a list of glob patterns specifies what content may be served.

Web Pages that Refer to Globs

The /timeline page supports the query parameter chng=GLOBLIST that names a list of glob patterns defining which files to focus the timeline on. It also has the query parameters t=TAG and r=TAG that names a tag to focus on, which can be configured with ms=STYLE to use a glob pattern to match tag names instead of the default exact match or a couple of other comparison styles.

The pages /tarball and /zip generate compressed archives of a specific checkin. They may be further restricted by query parameters that specify glob patterns that name files to include or exclude rather than taking the entire checkin.

Platform Quirks

Fossil glob patterns are based on the glob pattern feature of POSIX shells. Fossil glob patterns also have a quoting mechanism, discussed above. Because other parts of your operating system may interpret glob patterns and quotes separately from Fossil, it is often difficult to give glob patterns correctly to Fossil on the command line. Quotes and special characters in glob patterns are likely to be interpreted when given as part of a fossil command, causing unexpected behavior.

These problems do not affect versioned settings files or Admin → Settings in Fossil UI. Consequently, it is better to set long-term *-glob settings via these methods than to use fossil settings commands.

That advice does not help you when you are giving one-off glob patterns in fossil commands. The remainder of this section gives remedies and workarounds for these problems.

POSIX Systems

If you are using Fossil on a system with a POSIX-compatible shell — Linux, macOS, the BSDs, Unix, Cygwin, WSL etc. — the shell may expand the glob patterns before passing the result to the fossil executable.

Sometimes this is exactly what you want. Consider this command for example:

$ fossil add RE*

If you give that command in a directory containing README.txt and RELEASE-NOTES.txt, the shell will expand the command to:

$ fossil add README.txt RELEASE-NOTES.txt

…which is compatible with the fossil add command's argument list, which allows multiple files.

Now consider what happens instead if you say:

$ fossil add --ignore RE* src/*.c

This does not do what you want because the shell will expand both RE* and src/*.c, causing one of the two files matching the RE* glob pattern to be ignored and the other to be added to the repository. You need to say this in that case:

$ fossil add --ignore 'RE*' src/*.c

The single quotes force a POSIX shell to pass the RE* glob pattern through to Fossil untouched, which will do its own glob pattern matching. There are other methods of quoting a glob pattern or escaping its special characters; see your shell's manual.

Beware that Fossil's --ignore option does not override explicit file mentions:

$ fossil add --ignore 'REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt' RE*

You might think that would add everything beginning with RE except for REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt, but when a file is both given explicitly to Fossil and also matches an ignore rule, Fossil asks what you want to do with it in the default case; and it does not even ask if you gave the -f or --force option along with --ignore.

The spaces in the ignored file name above bring us to another point: such file names must be quoted in Fossil glob patterns, lest Fossil interpret it as multiple glob patterns, but the shell interprets quotation marks itself.

One way to fix both this and the previous problem is:

$ fossil add --ignore "'REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt'" READ*

The nested quotation marks cause the inner set to be passed through to Fossil, and the more specific glob pattern at the end — that is, READ* vs RE* — avoids a conflict between explicitly-listed files and --ignore rules in the fossil add command.

Another solution would be to use shell escaping instead of nested quoting:

$ fossil add --ignore "\"REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt\"" READ*

It bears repeating that the two glob patterns here are not interpreted the same way when running this command from a subdirectory of the top checkout directory as when running it at the top of the checkout tree. If these files were in a subdirectory of the checkout tree called doc and that was your current working directory, the command would instead have to be:

$ fossil add --ignore "'doc/REALLY SECRET STUFF.txt'" READ*

The Fossil glob pattern still needs the doc/ prefix because Fossil always interprets glob patterns from the base of the checkout directory, not from the current working directory as POSIX shells do.

When in doubt, use fossil status after running commands like the above to make sure the right set of files were scheduled for insertion into the repository before checking the changes in. You never want to accidentally check something like a password, an API key, or the private half of a public cryptographic key into Fossil repository that can be read by people who should not have such secrets.


Before we get into Windows-specific details here, beware that this section does not apply to the several Microsoft Windows extensions that provide POSIX semantics to Windows, for which you want to use the advice in the POSIX section above instead:

(The latter is sometimes incorrectly called "Bash on Windows" or "Ubuntu on Windows," but the feature provides much more than just Bash or Ubuntu for Windows.)

Neither standard Windows command shell — cmd.exe or PowerShell — expands glob patterns the way POSIX shells do. Windows command shells rely on the command itself to do the glob pattern expansion. The way this works depends on several factors:

Usually (but not always!) the C runtime library that your fossil.exe executable is built against does this glob expansion on Windows so the program proper does not have to. This may then interact with the way the Windows command shell you’re using handles argument quoting. Because of these differences, it is common to find perfectly valid Fossil command examples that were written and tested on a POSIX system which then fail when tried on Windows.

The most common problem is figuring out how to get a glob pattern passed on the command line into fossil.exe without it being expanded by the C runtime library that your particular Fossil executable is linked to, which tries to act like the POSIX systems described above. Windows is not strongly governed by POSIX, so it has not historically hewed closely to its strictures.

For example, consider how you would set crlf-glob to * in order to get normal Windows text files with CR+LF line endings past Fossil's "looks like a binary file" check. The naïve approach will not work:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob *

The C runtime library will expand that to the list of all files in the current directory, which will probably cause a Fossil error because Fossil expects either nothing or option flags after the setting's new value, not a list of file names. (To be fair, the same thing will happen on POSIX systems, only at the shell level, before .../bin/fossil even gets run by the shell.)

Let's try again:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob '*'

Quoting the argument like that will work reliably on POSIX, but it may or may not work on Windows. If your Windows command shell interprets the quotes, it means fossil.exe will see only the bare * so the C runtime library it is linked to will likely expand the list of files in the current directory before the setting command gets a chance to parse the command line arguments, causing the same failure as above. This alternative only works if you’re using a Windows command shell that passes the quotes through to the executable and you have linked Fossil to a C runtime library that interprets the quotes properly itself, resulting in a bare * getting clear down to Fossil’s setting command parser.

An approach that will work reliably is:

C:\...> echo * | fossil setting crlf-glob --args -

This works because the built-in Windows command echo does not expand its arguments, and the --args - option makes Fossil read further command arguments from its standard input, which is connected to the output of echo by the pipe. (- is a common Unix convention meaning "standard input," which Fossil obeys.) A batch script to automate this trick was posted on the now-inactive Fossil Mailing List.

(Ironically, this method will not work on POSIX systems because it is not up to the command to expand globs. The shell will expand the * in the echo command, so the list of file names will be passed to the fossil standard input, just as with the first example above!)

Another (usually) correct approach which will work on both Windows and POSIX systems:

C:\...> fossil setting crlf-glob *,

This works because the trailing comma prevents the glob pattern from matching any files, unless you happen to have files named with a trailing comma in the current directory. If the pattern matches no files, it is passed into Fossil's main() function as-is by the C runtime system. Since Fossil uses commas to separate multiple glob patterns, this means "all files from the root of the Fossil checkout directory downward and nothing else," which is of course equivalent to "all managed files in this repository," our original goal.


To preview the effects of command line glob pattern expansion for various glob patterns (unquoted, quoted, comma-terminated), for any combination of command shell, OS, C run time, and Fossil version, precede the command you want to test with test-echo like so:

$ fossil test-echo setting crlf-glob "*"
C:\> echo * | fossil test-echo setting crlf-glob --args -

The test-glob command is also handy to test if a string matches a glob pattern.

Converting .gitignore to ignore-glob

Many other version control systems handle the specific case of ignoring certain files differently from Fossil: they have you create individual "ignore" files in each folder, which specify things ignored in that folder and below. Usually some form of glob patterns are used in those files, but the details differ from Fossil.

In many simple cases, you can just store a top level "ignore" file in .fossil-settings/ignore-glob. But as usual, there will be lots of edge cases.

Git has a rich collection of ignore files which accumulate rules that affect the current command. There are global files, per-user files, per workspace unmanaged files, and fully version controlled files. Some of the files used have no set name, but are called out in configuration files.

In contrast, Fossil has a global setting and a local setting, but the local setting overrides the global rather than extending it. Similarly, a Fossil command's --ignore option replaces the ignore-glob setting rather than extending it.

With that in mind, translating a .gitignore file into .fossil-settings/ignore-glob may be possible in many cases. Here are some of features of .gitignore and comments on how they relate to Fossil:


In a project with source and documentation:

  +-- doc
  +-- src

The file doc/.gitignore might contain:

# Finished documents by pandoc via LaTeX
# Intermediate files

Entries in .fossil-settings/ignore-glob with similar effect, also limited to the doc folder:

doc/*.tex, doc/*.toc, doc/*.log, doc/*.out, doc/*.tmp

Implementation and References

The implementation of the Fossil-specific glob pattern handling is here:

File Description
src/glob.c pattern list loading, parsing, and generic matching code
src/file.c application of glob patterns to file names

See the Adding Features to Fossil document for broader details about finding and working with such code.

The actual pattern matching leverages the GLOB operator in SQLite, so you may find its documentation, source code and test harness helpful.